10 questions with ... Lyn Carter

In this instalment of '10 questions with,' we interview Dr Lyn Carter about her newly released book Indigenous Pacific Approaches to Climate Change: Aotearoa/New Zealand (2018), which is part of the Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology book series.

1. How would you describe your book to a non-anthropological audience?

 Takaroa/Tangaroa. Carved pou at Warrington Beach, Dunedin. Carved by members of Te Whare Wananga o Te Whānau Arohanui, Watiati, Dunedin, the spirals represent the past, present, and future generations of kaitiaki for the resources around the East Otago coastline—the domain of Takaroa. It stands at the interface between sea and land.  Photo: Lyn Carter.

Takaroa/Tangaroa. Carved pou at Warrington Beach, Dunedin. Carved by members of Te Whare Wananga o Te Whānau Arohanui, Watiati, Dunedin, the spirals represent the past, present, and future generations of kaitiaki for the resources around the East Otago coastline—the domain of Takaroa. It stands at the interface between sea and land. Photo: Lyn Carter.

The book discusses the idea of how Indigenous knowledge (IK) can be utilised to help adapt and adjust to the impact from climate change. In particular, the book deals with the situation here in Aotearoa New Zealand (A/NZ) where very little notice has been taken of adaptation measures to date. Our Pacific Island neighbours have been adapting to environmental changes for generations and have several strategies and practices in place, plus developing new strategies as each new challenge presents its self. All of these are underpinned by experiential knowledge and practices framed in traditional ecological knowledge, and provide lessons for Aotearoa New Zealand to heed. Aotearoa New Zealand has its own set of IK, namely Mātauranga Māori. There is also regional and local knowledge or Mātauranga-a-Iwi. This is locally referenced knowledge that will enable Iwi/hapū/whānau to lead the way in climate change adaptation within their respective takiwā, which, as the IPCC recognises, will need local solutions rather than a national generic one. This involves understanding our environment and our place within it and as part of the various ecosystems that exist. 

I also advocate that mitigation and adaptation need to work hand-in-hand to be totally effective in reducing the impact from climate change. IK/TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge) being relationship-based is ideal for this. Aotearoa New Zealand, as a large industrialised neighbour to the Pacific Island Countries, needs to take a two-pronged approach to reducing the impacts because we are responsible for some of the damage caused through Green House Gas emissions. The book has one chapter on how we are mitigating these and what the impact of the Emissions Trading Scheme is on Māori producers. Our environment (land and sea) is already experiencing current climate change impacts and we need to observe how this is happening so we too can adjust our future management and planning to ensure intergenerational development and growth. This may involve re-negotiating our relationships with our environment to ensure our place within the ecosystems remains mutually beneficial.

2. Why now?

Our environment is changing and will change even more. To date, A/NZ has focussed on mitigation measures – the Emissions Trading Scheme, reducing fossil fuel use and dependence, and alternative energy solutions. Adaptation has not really figured except in a very limited way. The book does not elaborate on the mitigation measure (except for the one chapter on the Emissions Trading Scheme), but instead describes some of adaptation projects and measures, and suggests other innovations that are occurring internationally and how these could be incorporated into A/NZ strategies and planning. Learning from our Pacific neighbours and how they have utilised TEK-based adjustments to their vulnerable systems is one way we can begin to ensure our future management and planning contains ways to make our environment more resilient to the impacts. 

3. What kind of assumptions do you unsettle in this book?

The main one, which some people will find hard to digest, is the way the book assumes IK/TEK is just the way things are – that is, the book very much comes from this perspective and is grounded in it. I guess it twists the whole argument and discussion on its head from the way Climate Change is currently being discussed across Aotearoa New Zealand. In saying that I do not dismiss climate change science, just refocus it as something that can be co-opted into the future IK/TEK-focussed planning in order to achieve the most beneficial outcomes.

 Photo of Dunedin City Council notification of piako protection at Brighton Beach, 2015. In her book, Lyn discusses how the Dunedin City Council's piako restoration project has its origins in understanding the dune system from the perspective of Māori Environmental Knowledge.  Photo: Lyn Carter.

Photo of Dunedin City Council notification of piako protection at Brighton Beach, 2015. In her book, Lyn discusses how the Dunedin City Council's piako restoration project has its origins in understanding the dune system from the perspective of Māori Environmental Knowledge. Photo: Lyn Carter.

4. What drew you to your topic?

Originally it was through discussions with my colleague Jenny Bryant-Tokalau around the ways that Pacific Island Countries seem to be thinking about and adjusting to climate change. They certainly were not thinking of themselves as victims or as “climate refugees.” Rather, these were labels imposed upon them. The IPCC forth report also advocated for IK to be used in adaptation measures, and this starting me thinking on how we were doing this here in Aotearoa New Zealand. From that the book grew and eventually became two books on Indigenous approaches to climate change: one from a Pacific Island Countries perspective (Jenny Bryant-Tokalau), and this one looking at Aotearoa New Zealand.

5. How was your publisher?

Palgrave McMillian and Springer were fabulous and the production team made it seem painless!   They were great to deal with. We were included into the ‘Pacific Disaster’ series spearheaded by Pamela and Andrew Strathern.  

I did receive a rather hard-lined review, particularly around the IK focus, and the reviewer’s rather colonialist view point of what the term ‘Indigenous’ means. The editorial board accepted my reasoning and response around IK/TEK, and recommended the book for publication. There were helpful reviewer comments about updating some material, which I acknowledged needed doing following my 18-month extended leave for health reasons, and of course a change of Government and climate change Minister. 

6. What’s your favourite part of the book?

I did enjoy writing all of it and learnt a lot too about the whole debate around climate change – especially the Emissions Trading Scheme and its impact and relevance to Māori development.

7. What have you learnt about yourself as a writer as a result of this?

To own your work and defend it when others may be critical, but at the same time reflect on the criticism as it may alert you to some underlying issues around things like clarity and structure. 

To be able to craft your writing in such a way that responds to wider audiences who may not necessarily be familiar with an IK/TEK way of thinking. So, learning the craft of writing for a non-academic audience as well as an academic audience was a big thing for me.

8. Would you write another book?

Probably. Already have further ideas to tease out.

9. What’s next?

I am busy completing a National Science Challenge, Bio Heritage project focussing on the sustainability of one of my hapu mahika kai species; and working on another National Science Challenge Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities project around Mātauranga Māori and the cadastral system. I am part of a team (led by Dr Diane Ruwhiu, University of Otago) that is looking at Māori women in the Māori economy – a diverse economies approach to thinking about the Māori economy. 

I have also been developing a further article around “migrations” and movement around the Pacific (including A/NZ) in the era of climate change.

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10. What are you reading at the moment?

I have just started reading The Great Derangement. Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2017) by Amitav Ghosh, as well as a couple of Norwegian “noir” detective novels. 

Dr Lyn Carter (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Mamoe, Waitaha)
Te Tumu, School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies
Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo | University of Otago